Sunday, February 10, 2019

Virginia Is For Lovers, Part II


Part I can be found here and I don't want to repeat anything. Instead, I want to start with a few Sunday thoughts from Rev. William Barber's Washington Post OpEd:
If Northam, or any politician who has worn blackface, used the n-word or voted for the agenda of white supremacy, wants to repent, the first question they must ask is “How are the people who have been harmed by my actions asking to change the policies and practices of our society?” In political life, this means committing to expand voting rights, stand with immigrant neighbors, and provide health care and living wages for all people. In Virginia, it means stopping the environmental racism of the pipeline and natural gas compressor station Dominion Energy intends to build in Union Hill, a neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves and other free African Americans.

Scapegoating politicians who are caught in the act of interpersonal racism will not address the fundamental issue of systemic racism. We have to talk about policy. But we also have to talk about trust and power. If white people in political leadership are truly repentant, they will listen to black and other marginalized people in our society. They will confess that they have sinned and demonstrate their willingness to listen and learn by following and supporting the leadership of others. To confess past mistakes while continuing to insist that you are still best suited to lead because of your experience is itself a subtle form of white supremacy.

At the same time, we cannot allow political enemies of Virginia’s governor to call for his resignation over a photo when they continue themselves to vote for the policies of white supremacy. If anyone wants to call for the governor’s resignation, they should also call for the resignation of anyone who has supported racist voter suppression or policies that have a disparate impact on communities of color.

While we must name and resist white supremacy, we can also recall that we are never alone in this work. During the 19th century, there were anti-racist abolitionists-- black and white-- who worked to subvert and transform a system that considered some people chattel. In the new dawn of Reconstruction, black and white men worked together in statehouses across the South to reimagine democracy. During the 20th century’s movements for labor unions, women’s suffrage, and civil, human and environmental rights, fusion coalitions of black, white, brown, Native and Asian worked together to pursue a more perfect union that both acknowledges our original sin and holds on to the hope that we might yet live up to the better angels of our nature. Whenever we ask what repentance means, we don’t have to start from scratch. We have a long tradition to draw on, full of examples of what true repentance must look like.

In his 20s and 30s, Democrat Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia was a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan, serving as the exalted cyclops of his local chapter. He continued to support the Klan into the 1940s, but Byrd later said joining the Klan was his greatest mistake. He demonstrated what repentance can look like by working with colleagues in Congress to extend the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and backing Barack Obama as his party’s candidate for president in 2008. “Senator Byrd and I stood together on many issues,” wrote Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who nearly died fighting for voting rights in Selma, Alabama In our present moral crisis, we must remember that real repentance is possible-- and it looks like working together to build the multiethnic democracy we’ve never yet been.
Virginia has been looking bluer and bluer. The state went for Nixon twice and then voted for Gerald Fiord, Reagan twice, George H.W. Bush twice, Dole, George W. Bush twice... Hopeless? In 2008, Obama beat McCain 52.6 to 46.3 and then went on to beat Romney. Even Hillary won the state (albeit with a plurality). 4 of the last 5 governors of the state were conservative Democrats (Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam). And since John Warner retired in 2008, Virginia has had 2 Democratic senators. Despite severe gerrymandering, the state's delegation to Congress has went from 8 Republicans and 3 Democrats in the 113th and 114th Congresses to 4 Republicans and 7 Democrats in the 116th. The Republicans hoped the change the dynamic by starting a coordinated series of scandals beginning with Gov. Ralph Northam's yearbook picture in blackface.

Now, as Politico pointed out yesterday, Republican strategists and activists are abuzz about their chances this November, when the party’s slim control of both state legislative chambers are in jeopardy in Virginia’s off-year elections. Republicans have a two-seat majority in the Senate, which has flipped back and forth between the parties four times during the past decade. Four Republican seats had been considered vulnerable this fall, compared to just two Democratic seats. In the House, Democrats made massive gains in 2017 and nearly took control. They were favored to make more gains in the House, where Republicans hold a three-seat majority with one vacancy."
“The entire executive branch of Virginia is apprised of Democrats and all of them are embroiled in their own respective scandals at this point so yes, that has obviously done damage to them,” Republican House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said. Still, he added, “The damage this has done to Virginia is a much larger issue than these secondary political implications.”

Even if they hang on, the three top leaders won’t be of much help to down-ballot Democrats. Normally they would be among the most powerful Democratic surrogates to appear at campaign rallies or raise money.

After this week, Republicans said they expect to recruit more formidable candidates, while Democrats wonder who they’ll have to run for statewide races in in 2021, the next time the seats are up. Fairfax and Herring had both been expected to run for governor.

"Candidate recruitment for the GOP is being made a lot easier thanks to the events of the last two weeks,” said John March, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, referring to the scandals and Northam’s controversial comments about late-term abortions.

Some Democrats dispute the consequences, saying the focus will quickly turn back to Trump and national politics.

“Six months from now, everything is going to be in the rearview mirror and the focus on D.C.,” state Sen. Scott Surovell said.

Other Democrats lamented they had only hurt themselves by acting so quickly on Northam, who said he was in his yearbook photo then reversed course, but did admit to donning blackface on another occasion.
Bleak? Yes. But deadly? Perhaps not. First of all, the sanctimonious Republicans have their own problem. Their Senate majority leader, Tommy Norment-- who already has a very strong general election opponent in progressive Democrat Herb Jones, has been exposed as an arch hypocrite. Norment, who was screaming for Notham's head, turns out to be the former managing editor of a college yearbook that contains ugly racial and ethnic slurs and, of course, images of people in blackface. And the news got worse for Virginia Republicans. "Students in a college course Norment taught at the William & Mary say that he routinely made racially insensitive and transphobic comments, forced students of color to defend Confederate iconography, and even defended the university’s defunct Brafferton Indian School that educated Native American kids-- often without their family’s consent-- in the 1700s."

Last week Dahleen Glanton, an African-American reporter for the Chicago Tribune wrote two OpEds on the Virginia scandals, If Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam resigns over racist photo, who wins? on Monday and As of today, let’s forgive everyone who has ever appeared in blackface. But anyone who does it tomorrow will get no mercy. on Friday. First, she identified the problem as political, "little to do with African-Americans... If there ever was a case that pointed out both parties’ shallow interest in pushing forward an agenda addressing racial equality, it is this made-up angst over a picture that appeared 35 years ago in a medical school yearbook in Virginia. Virginia, of all places. Everyone knows the racist history of that state. It is where much of the Civil War was fought. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, for Christ’s sake... Is it really so shocking that someone who grew up on a farm in a county with such strong ties to slavery might have put black shoe polish on his face at one time or another?"
Northam says he didn’t realize the harm he’d done by dancing in blackface until he had a conversation about it later with a person of color.

“He let me know why this was offensive,” Northam said at a news conference Saturday. “I apologized to him, and I will never do it again.”

This is what a conversation on race looks like. Someone does something racially insensitive. He discusses it with someone he has hurt and he comes away understanding why this seemingly innocent act is so painful to others.

These are the kinds of interpersonal discussions that can move our nation forward, not the angry, hate-filled rhetoric Trump has encouraged Americans to spew onto each other.

I will not pretend to speak for every African-American, but for many of us, there is simply no outrage over that blackface photograph on Northam’s yearbook page. Of course, it’s racist and offensive. But many of us who live in blackface every day aren’t shocked to learn that a white politician has racist skeletons in his closet. What many African-Americans care about is what Northam has done for them lately.

Apparently, black people in Virginia thought he would be their best ally when 87 percent of them turned out to vote him into office in 2017.

He agreed with them that Confederate monuments have no right in public spaces. Since taking office, he has worked to expand Medicaid to serve the poor. He has helped restore voting rights to felons, politically empowering more black men.

The African-Americans in Virginia have a right to feel betrayed by a friend. But the question they and black people across the country should be asking themselves is: What purpose would Northam’s resignation serve?

As our country engages in a bitter dispute over race, African-Americans have to figure out what we want the end game to be. If it is to enlighten white people about issues of race and help them to understand what it is like to walk in our shoes, then we must allow second chances.

While each case is different, we must consider whether to hold someone hostage as a racist for life because of a mistake made before they became aware. We must decide if it is in our best interest to have someone who has worked to make amends over the years standing with us against those who refuse to accept change... [O]n the larger, more important, issue of racial reconciliation, Northam’s resignation would achieve nothing.

Republicans, on the other hand, would get to rejoice that a racist was unveiled in the Democratic Party. They could point to Northam whenever someone brings up Rep. Steve King’s defense of white nationalists or Florida’s former secretary of state, Michael Ertel, who was forced to resign last month after a picture of him in blackface as a Hurricane Katrina survivor surfaced.

For Democrats, the reward is more calculating. By declaring zero tolerance for a racist act that occurred three decades ago, they’d get to throw African-Americans a small token of appreciation for years of loyalty. That will come in handy when they’re out on the campaign trail in Virginia fighting to keep this important swing state blue.

Trump, though, would get the greatest reward of all. A president known for stoking racial fear and ignoring the truth gets to call a Democrat a liar on Twitter.

After a game of golf with Tiger Woods on Saturday, Trump tweeted that Northam’s denial of being in the blackface photo after first apologizing for it is “unforgivable.”

What’s unforgivable, Mr. President, is how people like you use racism as a political pawn.
The second column she wrote that "racism is bipartisan. It’s not Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. It has permeated red states as well as blue states. It has always been part of this country’s moral fabric. It is rooted as deeply in America’s political history as the Founding Fathers, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Racism is part of the foundation on which our country was built. Blackface is a symbol of that racism, whether intended or not. It is merely a symptom of the larger, more complicated issue. Focusing on blackface alone is like pulling one rotten tooth when the whole mouth is decayed. Why would African-Americans still struggling to overcome the devastation of slavery, Jim Crow laws and systemic social and economic injustices spend a minute worrying that a politician, trusted or not, once wore blackface?... The way I see it, there is only one way out of this mess. As of today, black people have to forgive every white person who has ever worn blackface. But if anyone does it tomorrow, we’re coming after you."

Yesterday, in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday, Northam said he will spend the rest of his time in office-- 3 years-- remedying ongoing inequities related to race in his state. "It’s obvious from what happened this week that we still have a lot of work to do. There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia, and especially in the area of equity... There are ongoing inequities to access to things like education, health care, mortgages, capital, entrepreneurship. And so this has been a real, I think, an awakening for Virginia. It has really raised the level of awareness for racial issues in Virginia. And so we’re ready to learn from our mistakes." When will Trump look inward and decide to learn from his mistakes?  Yeah, I know. But what about state Senator Norment?

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At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My feeling is that the governor of Virginia will work harder than ever to do the right things by the people of his state. Those of us who have never done anything stupid in our youth can cast the first stone. I think all of those righteous republicans should think twice about going after him.


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